Your Charleston personal injury lawyers at Howell and Christmas, LLC recently read a very interesting case decided outside the State of South Carolina, and thought a brief synopsis of the case would be a nice change of pace for our blog's readers. The suit illustrates that civil claims against states and state agencies requires a statutory duty owed to the injured party for the action to be enforceable in tort. And exemplifies that negligence is a breach of duty owed to one, and absent that duty, there can be no negligence.
A five-year-old kindergarten student suffered a serious allergic reaction after eating a peanut butter sandwich given to her under her school's free lunch program. On the day the incident occurred, the young student went to school without a packed lunch or sufficient funds in her cafeteria to purchase lunch. In these instances, the elementary school she attended would serve students a "credit lunch" of either a bologna or peanut butter sandwich. These lunches were subsidized by federal funds administered by the State of Maryland (State) under the National School Lunch Act (NSLA). On the day the student went to school lunchless and with insufficient funds, a cafeteria worker gave her a peanut butter sandwich. Upon resisting to eating the sandwich, and informing the worker she was not allowed to have peanut butter, the student was ordered to eat the sandwich as her protests were mistook for misbehavior by the cafeteria worker.
Immediately the student began experiencing an anaphylactic reaction: her airway and eyelids began to swell, and she became lethargic and confused. After being taken to the school nurse and administered a dose of epinephrine, the student's mother picked her up and took her to the hospital. The episode caused the student to "experience symptoms of extreme psychological perturbation and post-traumatic distress," exhibit "regressive behavior such as thumb sucking and withdrawal" and, ultimately, a fear of attending school.
The student's mother (Petitioner) brought suit against the State, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), and the State Superintendent of Schools (collectively Respondents), as well as county-level education agencies, officials, and three unnamed cafeteria workers. Petitioner asserted a variety of claims against the county-level defendants, who eventually settled, but her suit against Respondents included only a single claim. Petitioner alleged that the Respondent's obligations under NSLA imposed a statutory duty of care to ensure that children with food allergies are not served lunches containing allergens. The State moved to dismiss the complaint, contending that because their role under NSLA is limited to monetary reimbursement and periodic monitoring they were not proper parties to the action. This contention specified that it is actually the local school boards who operate the lunch program within their districts. Also, Respondents moved to dismiss on the ground of governmental immunity.
Continue reading "Child's Food Allergy Gives Rise to Civil Action, But Can the State be Held Liable for School Lunches Containing Allergens? " »